What My Heart Wants to Tell
by Verna Mae Slone
Chapter Index | Chapter VI | Chapter X - XI and XII

Chapters VII - VIII and IX

Chapter VII

Kitteneye could tell it was going to be a very beautiful day. He had been awaken by a crunching sound from the kitchen and a flopping beat, beat, which came from the direction of the fireplace. Both told him that breakfast was on the way. Maw was grinding coffee, and one of the girls was churning. He thought how good that fresh butter would taste with the molasses. He sure was hungry. He remembered he had not eaten a "plum mess" since breakfast the morning before. That nickel's worth of brown sugar and round crackers he had bought at the grocery store could hardly be called a snack. He had eaten them on his way back home.

He knew that Maw had left his supper for him on the table covered over with a cloth. He could have eaten, but he did not want to risk waking her up. He knew she would have to know sometime, but knowing how she could fret, he wanted to wait as long as he could.

When he got to Vince Owens' house he stopped and got off his mule, tied the bridle to a fence post, and went in.

He knocked at the door and a voice from within told him to "Come in, if your nose is clean." He pushed the door open. Sarah and her mother were sitting before the fireplace. The young girl's lap was full of wool, with a full basket by her side. They were carding the wool, which would later be spun into yarn.

When Sarah saw who had entered the room, she put her hand up to her mouth, then dumping all the wool into the basket, she got up and made a fast retreat for the kitchen.

"Well, well," laughed Cindy, "you sure have plagued Sarah. She thought it was one of the young'uns a 'foolin' us. She never dreamt it was someone a'comin' in. She would never a'said that to you. Well, git ye a chair and sit a spell," she finished. Kitteneye sat down in the chair, now vacated by Sarah.

"Where is ye old man, Cindy?" he asked. He did not really want to know, but good manners demanded that he ask.

"He took a turn of corn to the mill," she answered, still working away with her wool and wooden cards.

"Yeah, I fergit it was mill day."

"Isom," she asked in a very concerned voice, "what fer are ye all dressed up in your Sunday go to meetin' clothes and it be a weekday?"

"Well," he said, "that's why I stopped. I wanted to tell ye I am git'n married today."

"Kitteneye, are ye goin' to marry Jane Hughes?" she exclaimed.

"Yeah, I went to town and got my license yesterday. I am on my way to her house now."

"But, son, do you like her a whole lot?" she asked. They had always been real good friends and Cindy knew she could speak freely with him.

"Well," he mused, "I 'spect it is more for Cleveland's sake, and I am twenty-four years old. Most everybody else has been married a long time, agin they are that old. You know she lays Cleveland to me," he blushed when he said this.

"Yeah, I jest about know he is your'n. If ever a child daddied itself, he shore does. He is jest the spittin' image of ye. But I shore hate to see ye marry her."

They sat there for a while, both lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Cindy began to laugh.

"Anyway, I thought I had been raisin' ye a good girl. I have teased Sarah about you and told her how that I fergit her that time, and went off and left her at ye maw's house. You shore had made ye mind up to keep her then."

"Well, it's not altogether been a joke with me, but I just got mixed up with Jane, and anyway there's Cleveland. Sarah would not want to be bothered with him."

"Well, Kitteneye, I told ye I was raisin' ye a good girl. If ye want to wait a few more months, I believe everything will work itself out. Lay them license there in the fire."

"Alright," he said, and taking the paper from his pocket, he slowly placed it in the fire and watched as it curled, then caught, and soon become ashes.

"A long trip to town and two dollars all went for nothin'," he laughed. "but less ways I won't haf'n to tell Maw after all."

Then he turned to Cindy and said, "Well, ye are willin', the preacher is, and I am. I guess I will just have to talk Sarah into being willin'."

Sarah, who had been eavesdropping during all this talk, whispered to herself, "That's not goin' to be as hard a job as you suspect, Kitteneye."

And it must not have been too much trouble. In the year 1887, and on the twnety-eighth day of July, John L Slone, and Old Regular Baptist minister, pronounced them man and wife. And they loved each other until they were separated by death.

Chapter VIII

I don't know very much about their courtship days, but I don't think my story would be complete unless I told you of one happening that almost brought an end to their friendship before it had barely begun. They were planning on going to church that day, around on Hollybush. Sarah was to wait before the house, near the "chop block," while Kitteneye went to catch his mule. So while Sarah stood there in all her best clothes and with a blanket folded to use as a cushion, Kitteneye took the bridle and started for the pasture.

He soon located Old Barney. But a large patch of ragweed, now in bloom, stood between him and the mule. He took one look at those weeds and then thought what they would do to his nice new britches. His mother had sewn them from cloth she had woven herself. She had not dyed the cloth, so they were a kind of cream color, almost white. Those weeds were damp with dew and loaded with yellow pollen. If he walked through there, his pants would be ruined.

He glanced back over his shoulder and saw he was well out of sight. Pulling his pants off, he hung them on the pasture fence and went after the mule in his shirttail.

The mule did not want to be caught. He had found some very nice tasty grass and he preferred eating to going to church. It took Kitteneye quite a while but he finally won out and put the bridle where it belonged, on Old Barney, and led him back to the fence where he had left his britches.

Then, he glanced over on the other side of the pasture fence, and lo and behold, there stood a two-year-old steer a'chomping away at his new pants while he stood there in his shirttail.

He rescued what was left, which was very little, not even enough to wear.

"Now what a mess I've got myself in," he said to himself. "Devil take that old calf."

The only way out of the hollow was right past the house, where Sarah was waiting. He hoped she had given up and gone inside. There was only one thing to do.

He mounted his mule, and started him running at a very fast lope. He did not even glance at the house. He saw Sarah through the corner of his eye, as the astonished mule went flying by with Kitteneye on its back, without saddle or pants.

I don't know how he ever explained it to her, but I guess they had many a good laugh about the time they did not go to church together.

Chapter IX

I don't if they had a "workin'" when there was a log cabin to be built for my parent's first home. If so, all their brothers decided on a given day. Everyone on Caney was invited or asked to come. Bringing their own tools, they built a one-room cabin, to which more could be added later. The trees had been cut and hauled to the site before by Kitteneye, with a pair of oxen.

Each man did what he was best at; some hewed, and some notched the ends of the logs. Then everyone helped to place them on top of each other. The ridgepole was the hardest one to get in place, and even the womenfolk sometimes helped when there weren't enough men present. The roof was made of split boards, with the space between daubed with mud and clay taken from the creek banks. A chimney was built on the side, a door opening on another side. The door "shutter" was alos made from split boards. Split logs were smoothed on the flat side to make the floor, and were called "puncheons." To keep those floors clean, they were scrubbed with beat-up sand rocks and a scrub broom.

I guess Kitteneye built his own chimney. I know he was a good hand to build chimneys. They used slate rocks, which were easier to chip and form. Stuck together with clay, they were not so heavy to stack. There would be a large open fireplace for heating and cooking. A large "back log" big enough to burn for several days was placed in the back of the fireplace, and a "fore log" placed in front, each end laying on a rock, or on a block of iron. This was so the fire could get air. Smaller pieces of wood were stacked crisscross so they would catch fire easy. The kindling would be put under this and lighted with a spark, made by beating a piece of steel against a flint stone. Many times when the fire had gone out, one of the kids would be sent to a neighbor to borrow some burning pieces of wood. So if someone seems to be in a hurry, we use the expression, "What did you come for? A shevilful of fire?"

At the working the women would be busy cooking a good dinner: chicken and dumplings for sure, plenty of fried eggs, meat either cooked or fried, large stacks of gingerbread and sweetcakes, egg custards, apple pie, maybe shucking beans or corn field peas, blackberry dumplings, and pots and pots of coffee.

These folks worked hard and ate hearty. There was always plenty to eat. If it was summertime, someone's job was to keep the flies from getting on the table. This was accomplished by waving a small branch or twig broken from a tree, backwards and forwards, over the food, while everyone was eating. Someone else took her place with the "swithin" while she ate.

The men were fed first, then the women and children, but there was always enough for everyone and a lot of jokes and plenty of laughter. They worked together, ate together, and loved each other as neighbors were intended to do since time began. I think a lot was lost when these old ways were changed to so-called better ones.

I am not going to say that everyone got along together in love and fellowship. There were quarrels and disputers, even ending in fights and gun battles. Some men were killed. That has been told and written about, but I hope to show you another life, one that was more real and true: people who joined together to help their neighbors. A working was a social event that was enjoyed by everyone. A lot of work was done, a lot of food eaten, and a lot of enjoyment had by all.

Some folks had a dance the night after the working, but I am almost sure Kitteneye and Sarah did not. Both Sarah and Kitteneye's parents were Old Regular Baptists, and music and dancing are not allowed by our church.

I guess there would have been some drinking of "good corn liquor." Drinking moonshine, so long as you did not get drunk, wasn't thought of as a sin back then. I have been told that even the preachers would take a drink now and then. My stepmother said her parents always kept a large barrel of moonshine sitting inside their cabin door, with a cup on a nail above, so anyone, even the small children, could take some whenever they desired. Moonshine whiskey was used a lot for medicine.

I do not know if Sarah's first home was built by friends and neighbors, or by Kitteneye himself. I don't even know just where it was. I don know it was somewhere on the head of Caney Creek, near Trace. He once told me how he made their first bed out of poles stuck into the cabin logs, in one corner. Then he laced the poles together with strips of leather for the springs. The mattress was a cloth bag filled with shucks, and I am almost sure my grandmother gave them a feather bed and pillows. All mountain girls had a supply of quilts made by the time they were old enough to get married, beautiful quilts, an art in their designs and with stitches so small you had to look close to see them, patterns such as Double Wedding Ring, Robbin' Peter To Pay Paul, Drunkards' Path, and many, many others. These patterns were exchanged with neighbors and friends and were regarded as very precious.

In a like way, mountain people would help each other butcher their hogs. Even the small kids and women would do what they could. From the beginning, when the fire was built to heat the water, until the hairs were cleaned up and burned, much work had to be done. The Chickens must not eat the hairs. If they did, they would take the "squalks" and die.

There was a lot of fun. Someone would be asked to measure the hog's tail. If he had never heard the joke before, he would be told to place his finger along the underside of the hog's tail to see how far it would reach up his arm. Then with a quick push the poor unsuspecting guy's finger would end up in the hole under the hog's tail. As the now wiser embarrassed fellow went to wash his hands, everyone would laugh. This was childish and simple, but it made life more enjoyable and changed what would have been hard work into play.

As soon as the liver was removed from the hog, great chunks were thrown on the fire to "brile." These the children would eat just as soon as they were cooked enough to be edible.

The bladder was saved and made into a balloon. Even the intestines or "guts" were used. They were cleaned, washed, and dried to be later made into soap.

The small pieces and scraps left over from the rendering the lard were called "cracklin's." These were used to make soap. They were also very good mixed with corneal and water to make "cracklin' bread."

My father always said that all of the hog was used except the "squeal," and if he could find a use for it, he would try to save that. Anyway his children squealed enough to suit him.

A large kettle of the meat was cooked and after everyone had eaten, each neighbor was given a "mess" to take home. The rest was "salted down" or made into sausage.

It's better not to feed your hogs just before killing them, since they are easier to clean and the feed is not wasted. But my father always fed his. He said he did not want anything to die hungry.

Another happy time was a "molassie stir-off." Every family had a crop of cane that had to be harvested just as soon as the seeds became ripe. If left standing any longer, the stalks began to dry. If cut too soon, the molasses would have a sour taste and would not keep. There was usually just one person in a community with a gin mill and a molasses pan. Kitteneye owned one.

He would take his equipment, set it up near the crop of cane, and begin his work. All the neighbors would gather to help. The seed pods were saved for chicken feed. The blades were dried for fodder. The stocks were cut and run through the gin mill. The juice was then boiled in the large pan placed over a fire.

When it first begins to boil, a green slimy scum is formed on top. This must be dipped off with a long-handled skimmer. This scum was thrown into a large hole dug in the ground. It was always a big joke if someone slipped and fell into this messy hole. They would use any trick to get each other into this hole.

When the molasses had boiled enough, a plug was pulled from a hole in one corner of the pan. The fragrant foamy liquid was caught in barrels or empty lard cans.

Eating molasses foam is one of my most pleasant childhood memories. We would take a stalk of cane and dip into the molasses, twirling it around until it was covered with a thick layer, licking it off while it was still hot. Everyone ate from the pan or barrel; maybe not so sanitary, but real enjoyment -- better than marshmallow.

My father received some of the molasses in payment for his work and the use of his gin and pan. Every visitor was given a bucket or jarful, to take home.

One of my cousins told me that he found a barrel of molasses on his porch one morning. He knew it had been left there by Uncle Kitteneye. He and his brothers and sisters were very pleased with this gift. Their father at that time was being detained against his own will at the government's expense at Frankfort. He had been caught in the wrong place at the wrong time by the wrong people.

My father also made chairs. I don't know when he first began or who he learned this trade from, so he may have made the first ones to have been used by Sarah in her new home.

As I have said, these folks thought nothing of working twelve hours a day. Kitteneye told me that one day after they had worked all day hoeing the corn, he and my mother came home at the edge of dark, very tired. While she prepared their supper, he sat down in the door and laid back on the floor to rest. When she got her bread in the dutch oven and placed it before the fire, she also came and sat down in the door and stretched out beside him. They soon fell asleep and were awakened the next morning when their cow decided ti was milk time and stuck her head in the door and gave a loud moo.

I wish I knew a lot more about their life together. I know they worked hard. As for "book learnin'," my mother knew only one letter, the letter "O." But she was educated in the things she needed to know: how to raise a family; how to card wool, and spin it in to yarn; how to dye the yarn with bark and roots gathered from the hillside, which of these to use to get the color she wanted; and how to knit this yarn into stockings and caps for her husband and children. With some help, she sheared wool from her own sheep.

She knew when to plant her garden, which plants grow better in one soil than another, when to fertilize -- using manure from the barn and chicken house, and rotten cinders and ashes from the fireplace -- and how much was needed.

She loved to make her rows of beans and peas a straight as an arrow, dragging up large "ridges" or beds for her sweet potatoes, beets and parsnips. She had artistic interest in how pretty she could make them look. She knew how to grow all the different vegetables, when to plant, to hoe, and gather them. She knew how to dry the green beans, to make shuck beans, and how to dry the "punkin" and cushaw (crookneck squash) for winter use. She sliced them into rings, about an inch wide, and hung them from a pole over the fireplace. She would have large barrels of shelled beans for soup beans. She knew how to make sauerkraut and pickled corn and beans.

She had a very large garden -- row after row of vegetables -- but the very best, with the richest soil, she used for her flowers: fall roses (zinnias), marigolds, bachelor's buttons, and touch-me-nots, and many others, too many to name.

My mother had no education, but in the things she needed to know, she had a master's degree, given to her by the greatest Master of them all. She knew the value of prayer, and how to serve the Lord. She joined the Old Regular Baptist Church when she was very young. In fact, she was one of the first eight to form the Mt Olive Church.

She never went further away from home than five miles in her whole life. She had gone to the Lower Caney Church house and had crossed the hills to the Reynolds Fork Church and Carr's Church. She had even gone to visit her daughter that lived in Mallet. But she had never gone to see her oldest daughter living in Ball, no more than twenty miles away.

I know she had rambled all over these hillsides as a child and young woman, hunting her cow and sheep, and bringing them in from the pastures. She had gone to dig roots, and gather barks and leaves, to make her dye and medicine, picking berries and gathering stovewood. I am almost sure she also went with my father to "fight fire," when the woods would get on fire and all the neighbors would join together. There were two ways a fire was "let out." First, every spring the "sage" grass was burned off the pastures to give way for the new grass to come up. Second, when a new ground was cleared, meaning all the trees cut down, the large logs were hauled away for use as firewood or buildings, and the smaller limbs were then piled up and burned. We called it burning brush. This was a get-together for all the neighbors, but sometimes the fire got out of control. The greatest danger was to the split rail fence. Many times Sarah and Kitteneye would pitch all the rails down the hill in advance of an oncoming fire to save them, later going back and carrying them, one at a time, to rebuild the fence.

My mother loved to cook, and fed everyone who came to her door. If anyone passed the house near mealtime, she would ask them to come in and eat with her. She often said she hoped no one had passed her house hungry.

They had a large family, so the table was extra long. My mother always had this big long table filled with bowls and platters of food, more than enough for her own family.

My sister told me of one time when seven men stopped in out of a rain storm. They were on their way from Carr, going to Wayland to work in the coal mines. When the men came into the house, my mother had dinner on the table. She asked the men to eat with them. All she added extra on the table were the seven plates and seven knives and forks. Yet everyone had all they wanted to eat.

The mountain folks took the words in the marriage (end page 46) ceremony, "What God has joined together let no man put asunder," for what they were meant to be. No man talked very much to another man's wife unless the husband was present. On entering the house for a visit, he asked at the door where the "old man" was. If he wasn't at home, he would not come in. If the man of the house was working somewhere near, he would go find him. If the job was something at which he could help, he would do so, while talking.

If it was cold weather and there were some of the "big young'uns" at home, the visitor might stay for a little while, even if the husband was gone. The woman would always ask about the other's wife, and ask him to bring her and come see them sometimes.

When two mountain people met, they always asked each other to go home with them, and when anyone passed the house he was asked to come in. The one who was passing also asked the other folks to go home with him. This was a ver strict code of the hills, and it was very bad manners if you did not observe them. Another rule as to always follow a visitor who is leaving to the door and talk with him until he is outside and always ask him to come back soon.

If a woman or man was said to be "clever," that meant they were unselfish and anyone was welcome to eat with them. If a woman or a girl was called "honest," it did not mean that she would not steal, but that she had high moral values. of course, there were a few "mean" women or "ridge runners" who were free with their favors, and gave themselves to any man who asked. These women were always shunned by all the "honest" women. A bastard or "wool colt" was fed and clothed, but never fully accepted. I remember being scolded by my father because I walked up the road one evening after school with a boy who did not know who his father was. This was a "double standard," for father had two children of his own without being married to their mother. As this is a true story, I must tell the bad as well as the good. My half-brothers were a part of our family, as much as anyone. The oldest one, Cleveland, is now buried in our family graveyard.

We people of the mountains are very clannish, with a family unity and closeness hard to understand and still harder to explain. You cannot help but notice how the same name will appear on mailboxes and business fronts: a few miles through the mountains and there will be only Halls, then Collins, to be replaced by Gayhearts. From all the old folks who obtained grants to land land you will still find some bearing the same name, living on the same land. My own grandchildren are the tenth generation of Slones who were born, lived - and the first seven generations died and buried -- here on Caney, within two miles of the same place where they settled in 1790. (end page 48)

End of Chapters VII - VIII and IX
Verna Mae Slone

Chapter Index | Chapter VI | Chapter X - XI and XII


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